Here’s a post which should be an encouraging read for any blog, fiction, short story or poetry authors. I’ll be looking at a few “bad” writing habits and saying why I think they’re alright after all.
Already, the system is working against me. The text editor has drawn a red line under the second word of the sub-heading. “Delete repeated word?” It asks, unaware of its own irony.
This makes sense though. We’re taught from a young age not to repeat words in our writing. This starts with school assignments where words shouldn’t be repeated beside each other (“It was a very very long weekend at grandma’s house.”) and the rule develops as our writing matures so that some of us are horrified by the thought of repeating one word in the same paragraph.
Here’s an example borrowed from Sammi Cox’s The Ghost Amongst The Gravestones:
-The air was damp. The ground was damp. A cold wetness permeated everything.-
They just repeated “damp”, surely it’s time to call the writing police? But it works. It even adds a poetic element, a sense of balance, to the paragraph. Repetition doesn’t have to be a faux pas if you own it and weave it into your writing style.
The phrase “grammar police” has almost become a cliché, and that should tell us something. Of course, grammar is extremely important. Without it, each of us would be speaking our own individual language. But who can say what is “good” or “bad” grammar (other than an English Literature professor)?
Lists are a good example of this. There are numerous ways to include a list in your writing. “Wind blew through the town square: chill, sharp and biting.” But surely we’ve all read something like this in a published work: “Wind blew through the town square. Chill, sharp and biting.”
What’s that full-stop doing there? By the rules of grammar it should be a colon. The first time I read a list like that in a novel, it grated with me. Now I’ve come to expect it and even anticipate it. It makes the writing more concise, easier on the eyes and improves the flow.
As with repetition, it’s breaking rules in the name of writing style. “Chill, sharp and biting.” is not a complete sentence, but it’s snappy and I like it.
He cried, I shouted, they hissed and many more
Debates about this writing faux pas are awful ones to throw yourself in the middle of. In my experience, it seems to be one of the most divisive issues in the world of fiction.
There is what I’ll call the strict conservative camp. Here speech is only ever followed by: “she said”, “he asked”, “I replied” or “they answered” (adjust for gender and number).
Then there are the radical free spirits who throw out “she grumbled”, “he whined”, “I trumpeted” and anything else we call a sound.
These are only the two extremes. In between them you can find a whole spectrum of readers and writers who hold widely differing opinions on what speech should be followed by to show who is talking. I’ve seen people on writing forums who proudly state that they’ll throw down a book if anyone “cries” or “wails” anything.
Of course, there is no correct answer. As with all of the above it’s a matter of your personal style. But that’s a terrible way to summarise a blog post. Instead, I’ll recommend avoiding either extreme.
Write what feels natural and if it feels too dry, add in some grumbles and trumpets. If you think the reader is being distracted from speech by what are in truth only narrative signposts, cut some down to a simple “said”. For the best of both worlds, try “he said, raising his eyebrows”.
Your text editor will likely put a green line underneath it, but what do they know?
Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?